4 Ways to Improve Scientific Writing
Mirela is a creative writer for . With an academic background in English and translation, Mirela now covers a range of topics including real estate trends, lifestyle and economy. Her work appeared in Home Business Magazine, Leader’s Hub and ValueWalk. Her previous experience in proofreading academic articles has inspired Mirela to choose a writing career path. In her free time, Mirela enjoys reading, but also hiking and creating art.
Guest post by Mirela Mohan
As is the case with each genre, scientific writing comes with its own set of rules and conventions that researchers use when recording their work in writing. Here are some suggestions that not only help writers allow the facts to tell the story, but also support spreading the fruit of their research to the world as their work meets the publication criteria in terms of format and language use:
- Know the Appropriate Style Guide and Be Consistent About it
Whenever writing a scientific paper for journal submission, one of the essential parts that decide the direction of your writing is becoming familiar with the preferred style guide of the publication you are submitting your paper to. While there are many rules dictating format, grammar and other writing conventions, writing and formatting in terms of style guide of choice wipes out the “correct” versus “incorrect” dichotomy. Style consistency can get your paper through the door or not. Many times, research papers are sent back for further consistency-related proofreading before being published.
What are some of the aspects that require the writer’s attention in terms of consistency? Here’s a minimal far-from-exhaustive list of issues to look into when writing a research paper:
- Title and headlines
Check with your style guide of choice to decide on capitalization of titles and headlines. For instance, the APA (American Psychological Association) style guide prefers sentence title case for headlines, which also have additional formats according to the section or subsection they attach to.
Use of abbreviations is also subject to consistency. The basic rule is using an abbreviation or an acronym for the first time should also be accompanied by an explanation or definition (be it parenthetical or not). Further references can use the abbreviated form throughout the text.
There are three tenses typically used in academic writing which include the present simple, the past simple and the present perfect. As it turns out, the present simple is used to describe a universal truth or a repetitive action that generally holds true. Using the past simple is usually reserved for an action that took place at a specific time in the past. The present perfect is used to indicate an action that occurred at an unspecific moment in time that has repercussions in the present.
- Other Grammar Rules
Whether your journal prefers the Oxford comma or not is also an aspect you should be aware of. Additionally, journals can be more or less lenient towards hyphenating compound words based on the preferred style guide. There isn’t really a “right” or “wrong” way to spell a word when it comes to hyphenation. Make sure you are in the know when it comes to the rules your journal is abiding by.
- Stick to One Idea Per Paragraph
As with every piece of writing, the main purpose of this endeavor is to communicate ideas organized in paragraphs. For ease of communication, it is recommended that each paragraph focus on one idea. The topic sentence, which is usually the one opening the paragraph, encapsulates the main idea of the paragraph. The following sentences come to expand of that idea with examples and further explanations.
- Break Down Sentences for Ease of Communication
With scientific writing, it sometimes happens that sentences are longer as writers explain processes and phenomena, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Sentences that span a few lines are difficult to follow. Therefore, it is important to break down ideas into several sentences if needed. Writers can use the semicolon and a numbering system to enumerate items or they can use bullet points for the same purpose. Parenthetical explanations should be avoided in order to improve the flow of the text. Instead, you can create a new sentence introduced by the appropriate connector.
- Give the Passive Voice a Pass
While the English language prefers the active voice over the passive voice, that doesn’t have be the hard-and-fast rule in scientific writing. Whenever researchers explain a process, using the passive voice can help convey a sense of objectivity and distancing from the actions described in order to keep the focus on the scientific aspect at hand. For all the other instances, make sure to use the active voice.